"Humanity in Orange Shirts"

jailThe best part of being a published author is being able to reach readers far and wide with my stories. Every once in a while, I’m reminded of exactly how far and wide, and it’s always an eye-opener. With their permission, I’d like to share with you some communication I’ve had recently with a not-your-typical-bookclub. Instead of describing this exchange to you, I’m simply going to copy an abridged version of it here.


I received the following email about a month ago from a remarkable woman named Vonnie:

I want to tell you how inspiring your book THE SECRET LIFE OF CEE CEE WILKES was to a very special group of women.  I started a book club at the South Dakota Women’s Prison eight years ago.  I am a retired teacher and an avid reader.  I accept 12 women into my book club and we have four requirements:

1. Must finish the book

2. Must complete discussion sheet

3. Must attend and take part in book club discussion 

4. Must listen to each person as they contribute to the discussion. 

 I always have a long waiting list waiting to get into the book club.  They get to keep their book each time.  Many people and organizations have contributed to this ministry (It has become that for me).  I have also written several grants to buy books for them.  It is a wonderful time for them to share in an intelligent discussion after reading a great book.  Your book really spoke to them.  I would like to email you some of their comments about it.  I am also asking you to email a letter of encouragement for women who have made a mistake and deserve to be forgiven.  They are humanity in orange shirts.

 I hope you will consider this.

Thank you so much for your wonderful book!


Of course, Vonnie’s email moved me to tears! I was in the middle of deadline crazies, but when I had a few spare minutes, I wrote back:

Dear BookClub members,

 I was so pleased to hear that you enjoyed The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes. Writers live such isolated lives as we work. We never know what our readers will take away from our stories, so it means a great deal to me to know you were touched by CeeCee and her plight.

I’ve spoken to many bookclubs about The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes over the past couple of years and what is always interesting to me is the compassion people feel for CeeCee. Nearly everyone is able to understand how a very young woman can be swept into such a devastating scheme. I worked hard to make CeeCee a sympathetic character by showing how she was shaped by her past: she has no father and loses her mother far too young. Her need to be cared about and loved draws her to the wrong sort of man. None of that excuses what she did and ultimately she has to pay for her actions, but I believe her background does make her behavior more understandable.

 My previous career was as a psychotherapist working mainly with teenagers with behavior problems. I thought it was important to know about their growing-up years to understand why they were now getting into trouble, yet I felt it was even more important to focus on the future. They may have been abused or abandoned or raised by an alcoholic father in the past, but what could they do now to move forward into a positive and productive life? That’s what I always wanted to explore with them in therapy—how to move forward. In CeeCee’s case, I believe she made the choice to be the best Mom she could be and to help other young people through her role as a therapist as a way to atone for her mistakes in the past. I really liked her strength and I always sympathized with her fear of being found out. Sometimes that fear is worse than actually facing the consequences of the things we’ve done wrong.    

 Your bookclub sounds fantastic! I’m in a bookclub myself, and I love how it exposes me to books I might never read on my own. Many of the women in my club are very different from myself and I learn so much from listening to their ideas about what we’ve read. I’m sure you’ve found that to be true in your club as well. There are few things that can draw women together more than exchanging their thoughts and feelings about a good story.

I wish you all the best and I hope you can move toward the future with strength and courage. Thanks for letting me share my book with you, and I would love to hear some of your thoughts about it.


Diane Chamberlain


Then I received Vonnie’s response, along with feedback from the women in the bookclub:

Hi Diane,

  The women were thrilled with your letter!  I made a copy for each of them. Thank you for taking the time.

   Here are some comments from them on The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes:

* “Your book was a page turner.  It seemed real.  It had aspects of multiple genres.”

 * “I felt this was a very edge of your seat book.  I really enjoyed reading it.  It makes you really sit back and wonder about many people.  We each know individuals that are living under different identities.  Can’t wait to read more of your books.”

 * “this book encouraged me that long standing mysteries can one day be solved and that somewhere out there someone knows the truth and will one day do the right thing for the right reason.”

* “This book was awesome.  Everything was perfect and made you feel every emotion as the situations developed.  I couldn’t put this book down without thinking this could really have happened, and what was going to happen next.”

* “You wrote this book for me!  I am a redhead.  I lost my daughter in a very violent birth similar to this one.”

* “CeeCee Wilkes was the best book I have read in a long time.  It gave me hope that good can come out of a bad situation, and honesty is still the only way to be.  Great story!  I look forward to reading more of your novels.  Thank you.”

* “I have been in this book club for four years and this book is by far the best I have read.  I would like to know where you came up with the story line.  What inspired it?”

 * “I enjoyed the book a lot.  It was a page turner.  It had me thinking of all kinds of things. They lived all kinds of lies.”

 * “A book made for us!  Thank you.”

 *  “I have never read a book so quickly!”

 * “Please come back with another book this good.  I want to read more of your books.  I hope we get to read more of them in our book club.”


 Me again. Thank you, Vonnie, for the work you do with these women. I’m so glad I could be a small part of it.


  1. Debbie hearne on June 13, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    How wonderful to know that you have touched so many lives in so many different ways with your books!

  2. Ronnie on June 13, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    Diane thank you for sharing that with us. How does it make you feel that you can inspire women that are in such dire circumstances? It must be an amazing feeling.

    I now can no longer feel sorry for myself.

  3. Ronnie on June 13, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    Oh and I love the name of their book club!

  4. Diane Chamberlain on June 13, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    Ronnie, I guess what touches me the most is people like Vonnie. She’s full of compassion and courage and hope.

  5. Margo on June 14, 2010 at 7:47 am

    What an amazing story…Diane, I was touched reading this blog this morning…Vonnie is absolutely amazing and I love the fact she is reaching out to these women in such a positive way…You must feel incredibly moved to know you have effected these women in such a good way.

  6. Ashley on June 14, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Thank you, Diane, for writing your books for everyone! I think it’s awesome that your books touch women (and quite a few men) from all walks of life; whether they are soccer moms and dads, corporate business people, retired teachers, prison book club members and overall readers!

    Thanks again! *tear*

  7. brenda on June 15, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    Great for you to write, Diane. I taught at a maximum security male prison for one semester-two nights a week-in the south-the men loved the books and the computers…it was a moving experience…the book club is a great idea-not sure if we have a female prison near me-but what a good idea when I quit teaching in a couple of years. My online bookclub likes your books-I know my bookclub I am starting in my home will also. As I said, in September, we are doing P&P (Austen) and I am making little tea sandwiches, scones, ettc., and going to surprise them with little gifts/soaps, etc…can’t wait…Our DC book is January…have to come up with some surprises for that one.

  8. brenda on June 16, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    Acc to the events page, you are going to do an event at the Winery in Ocean Isle-near Myrtle–however, the date is when I am not available…hope you do it again…I do plan a trip to that winery…good books and good wine-wow…In fact, I hope to get there this summer…what are you doing there? A book signing?

  9. Diane Chamberlain on June 16, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    Brenda, I could see you doing this sort of work.
    I’m not exactly sure yet while I’ll be doing at the winery, but I’ve been invited and it sounds like fun, so I’m going! Sorry you can’t make it.

  10. brenda on June 17, 2010 at 9:37 am

    One of these days, you will be doing an event when I am in town…the winery sounds fabulous…I can’t wait to do NAPA again this year…

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